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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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hot aluminum tubs full of turkey
november 23, 2002

Yesterday, Friday the twenty-second, Mary and I went to the Thanksgiving Day luncheon at Mary's work.

Everyone was happy to see Mary again, people coming out of cubicles, and rising from behind desks, big smiles, hugs, a tour to show her all the new computer equipment, the teleconferencing room starring, behind walnut doors, a huge TV screen.

The food was prepared by String Bean, a nearby restaurant specializing in traditional meals, huge, hot aluminum tubs full of turkey, excellent stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, string beans mixed with black-eyed peas, and enough pies, pumpkin, pecan, apple, for a vaudeville sketch.

We all sat down around the long table in the conference room, catching up, cracking jokes. Everyone was amazed at Mary's progress.

Her speech therapy three times a week at Baylor, a hospital consistently ranked as one of the best in the United States, has really accelerated her recovery from her stroke in April.

I attend each session, sitting quietly next to her at the table while the therapists help her regain her ability to speak and write.

The stroke, massive though it was, did not affect her intelligence or memory at all, 'only' her ability to communicate. A left-side stroke, such as Mary suffered, affects the language processing center of the brain. You see a sentence in your head, but can't remember how to say the sentence out loud. You read a sentence, and can't separate the actual words you're reading from their associations.

For example, Mary will read the sentence, "Helen visited her parents", and will say it out loud as, "Helen visited her mother". "There was a traffic jam on the highway during rush hour" will come out as, "There was an accident on the highway during rush hour."

All of this is improving rapidly. One of the exercises the therapists perform with Mary is to have her read two sentences and determine if they are saying the same thing, or something different.

"Tom exercised after eating breakfast."

"Tom had his morning meal, then lifted weights."

Are the sentences expressing the same idea, or a contradiction?

(What is fascinating to me is the way the lessons use synonyms so the patient can't be cued by the reoccurrence of key words).

Sometimes though, to test Mary's ability to understand how context affects meaning, the same words are used.

"The judges took the time to make a fair decision."

"The judges decided to spend some time at the fair."

Mary has been consistently able to deduce the true meaning of the statements, a big foot forward. She's talking more and more in sentences. She's coming back.

Lady's kittens, six weeks old now, are at the batting-at-everything stage. They sleep under our bed at night, tumbling out as I put my bare foot down in the early A.M., me forgetting each morning, tired as I am, that my foot apparently resembles the high-walled castle the ninjas must scale. I gimp out to the kitchen with five kittens swinging from my pajama leg, me trying to pluck their delicate claws off the stripes, like trying to rid yourself of the large hitchhiker spores you get on your clothing after walking through a field.

Little backs hunched, they skip sideways across the kitchen floor on their tiny claws, colliding over each other, striking terror in our adult male cats, who turn their tailed backs, move off like armadillos. Plus they love to lick us. My giant thumb petting a back, the kitten will twist its head around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, little rough tongue lapping my fat fingerprint, I guess for the salt. (At the Thanksgiving luncheon, Walter, an officer at Mary's company, told me that when he had his fingerprints taken at a local police station, a requirement for the company to obtain an insurance license in Florida, the cop said he could tell Walter worked with paper a lot, because people who handle paper quite a bit tend to have their fingerprints sandpapered away over time. Do you work with paper a lot? Rub your thumb around the whorls of your index finger. Does it feel smoother than it used to? You could be ready for an exciting career in crime).

And the kittens stare at us. Constantly. We're lying in bed, watching a movie, I get this weird feeling, look around, and here's two or three little kittens staring dementedly up at me with their bright beady eyes, trying to figure me out.

Part of the effect on Mary of having a stroke has been a desire to improve surfaces. Perhaps the diminishment to the speech center increases visual appreciation. I know she's much better now than me at spotting something in a landscape, or on a road.

We've repainted our window sills, swept the deserted cobwebs from the two-story tops of our walls, pulled out the build-up of lint behind our clothes dryer (that was actually a lot of fun).

Last week, at a local supermarket, we rented a Rug Doctor, a carpet cleaning machine that infuses steam into a carpet, then sucks up the roiling tidal wave of grit and gray water. (I sincerely believe a lot of products succeed simply because of their names. Mr. Coffee is an excellent example. We own one. The carafe has a hollow handle. When you lift it out of the dishwasher, and invert it to put it back in place on the brewing machine, a cascade of soapy water lands on your feet. Getting the top part of Mr. Coffee, the part you scoop the coffee grounds into, back onto the non-immersible main part of the machine is like trying to get the two ball bearings into the clown's face you hold in your tilting hand, the Give Mr. Jiggles Sight! game. But we put up with it because it's called Mr. Coffee. If it were called Sween Coffee Brewing Machine, I'd've stomped it into the vinyl of the kitchen floor long ago).

Anyway, we got the Rug Doctor home, filled it with Rug Doctor fluids, turned it on. There are as many warning stickers plastered all over Rug Doctor as you find on stepladders. One of them said, If The Clear Plastic Chamber Atop The Red Chamber Does Not Fill With Water, Call Blank Blank Blank, one of those 877 toll-free numbers, which tells me Rug Doctor is a Johnny come lately to the toll-free concept, since they weren't able to get an 800 number.

The Clear Plastic Chamber Atop The Red Chamber of our Rug Doctor was not filling with water.

I called the 877 number. Had to listen to information about how the answers to many Rug Doctor questions can be found on the Rug Doctor website, the entire URL of which, starting with 'http', was repeated twice (doesn't that make you hate the Internet?). Mary pulled up the website while I was on hold. No answers. Just a lot of Rug Doctor testimonials, the type we're supposed to read with one hand. I then got to listen to an overly-detailed description, four minutes long, an extremely long time with a phone pressed to your ear, a malfunctioning Rug Doctor in front of you, on how to fix a version of Rug Doctor we hadn't rented (a version in which the Clear Plastic Chamber Is Beneath the Red Chamber).

After finally talking to a human, who spent most of the conversation defending Rug Doctor's integrity, we got the thing to work. And I have to say, once that Clear Plastic Chamber did start Filling With Water, it did a damn fine job. Our white carpets look beautiful. I like walking across them, admiring how clean they are.

After the carpets, we repainted some walls, then invaded the garage. We have tall bookshelves out there, loaded with bat feeders, clunky old cell phones, cobwebby clay flower pots, tension rods for shower curtains, swinging slatted doors we removed from the entrance to the toilet alcove in our master bathroom (I never understood their purpose. The doors are the type you see in Westerns at the entrance to an old time saloon. The cowboy pushes the swinging doors open, clanks into the saloon, revolvers weighing down his hips. What is the connection between that and walking into a toilet alcove? Am I supposed to swagger as I push the swinging doors open? Who am I trying to impress? The roll of toilet paper?) We also, earlier today, another fine, cool autumn day, hairs on my forearms lifting, stapled Christmas lights above our garage door, and down the side of the house.

Tomorrow, Sunday, November 24, is my fifty-second birthday. This might sound arrogant, I hope it doesn't, but I'm happy with the person I've become. It wasn't always that way. We'll have chicken and andouille sausage gumbo for dinner tomorrow, something we've eaten on each of my birthdays for the past ten or so years. It's one of our many traditions. I started the chicken stock this morning, cold water, chicken wings, onion, garlic, bay leave, black peppercorns, and can smell its wonderful aroma as I type these words.